When it comes to handicapping backup running backs (aka "handcuffs") for the purpose of finding middle- and late-round gems, we might be wasting our time.
Think back to last year. People raced to draft guys like Alexander Mattison and Latavius Murray with lottery-ticket dreams in their heads. But it was Mike Davis (2020 ADP of dirt) and Wayne Gallman (2020 ADP of belly button lint) who were most helpful -- not because they were talented, but because they were given serious opportunities in their offenses thanks to injuries to the stud backs in front of them.
The point is, every backup running back has a golden opportunity if the lead guy misses playing time.
So when you look for backups to put on your Fantasy bench, it's more about locating the fellas who have some semblance of a role even when the lead guy is playing. That way there's some mild potential to help your Fantasy team in desperate times (you'll never know when you might need it), as well as carry lottery-ticket upside if/when they're pressed into action.
But these backups are truly backups and not what you might consider a "1B" running back. Those are dudes who share with the "1A" starter on a weekly basis. Guys like Kareem Hunt who see roughly 10 touches per week. For the sake of posterity, here are the "1B" runners (sorted by team) who won't get ranked among the handcuffs.
|ARI||Chase Edmonds||James Conner|
|BUF||Zack Moss||Devin Singletary|
|CLE||Nick Chubb||Kareem Hunt|
|DEN||Melvin Gordon||Javonte Williams|
|DET||D'Andre Swift||Jamaal Williams|
|JAC||James Robinson||Travis Etienne|
|LV||Josh Jacobs||Kenyan Drake|
|NYJ||Michael Carter||Tevin Coleman|
|SF||Raheem Mostert||Trey Sermon|
|TB||Ronald Jones||Leonard Fournette|
So with the "1B" backs in their own group, here's the rank list strictly for the handcuffs. Remember, pretty much every single one of these guys would become Fantasy starters if the star back in front of them misses some action. All of these handcuff running backs have an early-August ADP of 90 or later.
2020 opportunities as the backup: Almost nothing, but to be fair, he was third on the depth chart. For reference: Williams averaged 9.1 touches per game in the 14 he shared with Jones (playoffs included).
2021 outlook: Dillon has a chance to earn some valuable touches (potentially at the goal line) even with Jones as the main stud. Maybe Dillon inherits the touches Williams had in 2020. Maybe he becomes a "1B" back!
I'd draft him: Round 9 or 10
2020 opportunities as the backup: Averaged 5.9 carries and 2.1 targets in 15 games Elliott played in.
2021 outlook: Pollard is probably stuck in the seven-touch weekly vortex without a dedicated role in the Cowboys offense as long as Elliott is healthy and not fumbling.
I'd draft him: Round 10
2020 opportunities as the lead guy: There was only one game where Edwards didn't have to deal with Mark Ingram and JK Dobbins: It was Week 12 against the Steelers and he had nine carries for 10 yards with a score. Not exactly the best showing.
2020 opportunities as the backup: His 15-game average for everything but that Steelers game came out to 9.0 carries and 0.8 targets per game.
2021 outlook: Edwards' efficiency has been very good, but everything out of Baltimore suggests a larger role for Dobbins this season. Plus, Lamar Jackson's rushing skills aren't evaporating anytime soon. Both of those things make it hard to see Edwards break out of the nine-touch range unless Dobbins gets hurt.
I'd draft him: Round 10
Latavius Murray, Saints
2020 opportunities as the backup: That's pretty much every game but that weird one in Denver: 8.2 carries and 1.8 targets per outing, including the playoffs.
2021 outlook: Murray should float right around his 2020 averages again, even if the Saints figure to try running the ball more. But he had just three carries from three yards or closer (Kamara had 10), so it's not like he has any valuable role in the offense unless Kamara misses time.
I'd draft him: Round 10 or 11
Alexander Mattison, Vikings
2020 opportunities as the lead guy: In two games without Cook, Mattison struggled (10 carries, 26 yards; two targets, a 4-yard catch against Atlanta) and thrived (95 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown and 50 yards on three targets caught against the Lions in Week 17). Mattison also had 112 rushing yards on 20 carries in a game Cook started against Seattle.
2020 opportunities as the backup: Outside of those games against Atlanta, Seattle and at Detroit, Mattison averaged 4.5 carries and 0.7 targets in 10 matchups.
2021 outlook: Mattison is a true backup who only becomes useful in Fantasy if Cook misses time -- and even then, there's no guarantee he'll be great.
I'd draft him: Round 11 or 12
2020 opportunities as the lead guy: None.
2020 opportunities as the backup: None.
2021 outlook: Jones is competing to be the Rams' No. 2 back behind Darrell Henderson, whose week-to-week availability remains a concern. That's why we're thinking about Jones, who is the physical type with good vision and hands, but he's far from a burner. Still, if he replaced Henderson somehow, he'd have good Fantasy value based on the opportunity.
I'd draft him: Round 12
2020 opportunities as the lead guy: None. In fact, he's never seen 50% or more of the snaps in a game and has one career game with 15 carries.
2020 opportunities as the backup: Barely playing in 2020 following a late 2019 ACL injury, Penny averaged 3.7 carries per game.
2021 outlook: Penny claims he's lost weight and feels more explosive. If it helps him stay available, the Seahawks will be satisfied. The only way he'll see meaningful touches is if Chris Carson misses time.
I'd draft him: Round 12 or 13
Williams sat out the 2020 season.
2019 opportunities as the lead guy: Effectively the Chiefs' top back in 11 games including three playoff matchups, he averaged 13.0 carries and 4.7 targets. Looking strictly at the playoffs, he averaged 15.3 carries and 6.7 targets. He also scored at least once in his final four games.
2019 opportunities as the backup: He played behind LeSean McCoy for three games, averaging 5.7 carries and 1.3 targets.
2021 outlook: Even if Tarik Cohen were healthy, Williams would figure to be the backup to David Montgomery as a running-downs back anyway. But with Cohen out, Williams is serviceable to be an alternative to Montgomery in any down or distance. There is some faint "1B" potential for Williams, making him worth a late-round look.
I'd draft him: Round 13
2020 opportunities as the lead guy: Brown rarely led the Rams backfield in touches, though he did in Week 1, posting 53 yards on 11 carries with two scores. It didn't earn him any starts, or even more touches.
2020 opportunities as the backup: In the 17 games he played in after Week 1, playoffs included, Brown averaged 5.4 carries and 1.8 targets. Somehow that's better than his 2019 per-game averages.
2021 outlook: Brown played the second-most third-down snaps of any running back last year, but graded poorly in pass protection and saw just 33 targets. He fared better as a short-yardage goal-line back, converting 4 of 6 carries from three yards or closer for touchdowns. Maybe one of these roles will be his, even when Gaskin plays, but with Salvon Ahmed on the roster, he's unlikely to be a full-timer if Gaskin gets hurt.
I'd draft him: final-round pick
2020 opportunities as the backup: In Booker's other 15 games he averaged 5.1 carries and 1.3 targets per game.
2021 outlook: The only reason Booker is here is because Saquon Barkley's rehab from major knee surgery is taking longer than expected. He's not going to help anyone unless forced onto the field in case of another Barkley injury. Once it's clear Barkley is back, Booker will routinely go undrafted.
I'd draft him: final-round pick
Additional names for deep-league drafters
Chuba Hubbard, Panthers: If something happens to McCaffrey again, Hubbard figures to be the next man up for the Panthers. If he regains his pre-ankle injury form (he ran for over 2,000 yards in 13 games in 2019) and proves he's still a decent pass-catcher, he'd be super for Carolina and for Fantasy.
Phillip Lindsay, Texans: Perhaps if David Johnson misses time, Lindsay would fall into a role where he'd see double-digit carries frequently. It's hard to get excited about any Texans player but at least Lindsay is young and has shown explosiveness.